Tuesday, 12 April 2022

300 in 3 Months

 Admittedly it's April, but these were finished in March. I've finally got into my Rohirrim horsemen (12) with another ~8 or so to come. These 27 minis bring my total to 316 so far this year.

 

What is this? Well, I did paint it, so I reckon it should count. ^^^Not really a mini I suppose....

Yes, I finally painted some Rohirrim on horseback. Not my finest work but gets them table-ready.

Another 10 Easterling foot, a commander and banner. 
Some Rangers of the North.
Repaired and painted some Gondor cavalry. Though spear still is shonky...
 

The longboard deck I painted above alludes to another interest - riding around on planks with wheels. There's a bit of overlap; I've been playing with my 6-year-old son's Tech Decks (toy finger-skateboards at 1:12 scale) and bought my own toy board. He and his sister were offended when I declared mine was cooler than theirs, and retaliated by buying themselves a 5-pack each. Finally, they had a toy collection bigger than Dad!...

...which prompted me to build a real skateboard identical to the Tech Deck toy, proving it's hard to outdo Dad in the toy department... 
 
Painting output has been low in April. I've got Dropfleet Commander PHR & USC boxes semi-assembled. Man, the models are amazing - they fit together so well you can click them together with friction and they stay in place. Some of the most precise work I've seen. Only downside was I've damaged a few when cutting them from the sprues and the castings are so fine you notice the blemishes.
 
Also sitting on my hobby bench is an Imperialis Aeronautica starter box which I've eyed off but not even attempted. The hex maneuver rules are a bit confusing and I haven't been in the mood to decipher them. Exacerbating this, the models - whilst nice - come in 101 pieces. It just seems like GW wants to justify their prices by making it feel like you bought a model kit. Taking an hour to assemble a single small mini isn't my idea of a good time. Don't expect a rules review or completed model pics anytime soon.
 
I've also been playing a few  PC games with my kids. Warframe (robot space ninja Jedi) which has given me ideas for a co-op wargame using simple AI, Hunter Call of the Wild - the family that shoots animals together, stays together - and Star Wars Battlefront II (2005 version, of course) being the most popular, although my young son surprisingly prefers slow paced tactical shooters like ARMA3 and Ghost Recon. All are actually pretty decent "Dad" games where old age and cunning tends to outweigh young reflexes, so I'm OK with that!

I have continued to experiment with homebrew skirmish rules; I've simplified The Forgotten by stripping away most of the reaction and activation mechanics. While good rules in themselves, creating lots of interesting decisions, it drew the focus onto positioning and firing lanes, rather than supernatural sci fi horror shenanigans. It was good meaningful decisions, but in the wrong places. As it was, it would have made a good modern spec ops shooter but I wanted faster play, and fewer position decisions in order to focus players on morale and magic management. Currently it's a bit like a super simple Savage Worlds with many shared dice mechanics - which has the benefit of allowing me to port in spells and abilities with minimal playtesting. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

LoTR:SBG - Easterlings, Ringwraiths, Army of the Dead

My 1000-page journey with my daughter through the LoTR books is at an end, and likewise my LOTR painting run is drawing to a close.

This month my work ramped up again, and I only managed to paint these 31 models, giving me a total of 289 painted in two months of 2022 - mostly due to being flooded in. It's currently another huge flood where I live, and Day #5 stranded, without coffee. Yep let that sink in.

I've now done the bulk of my Middle Earth forces. Now it's just 'tidying up' random models. My aim was to have 50-60+ strong warbands for each main LoTR faction and this has been largely achieved. 

The army of the dead were most interesting to paint.  I painted them roughly in brown base colours, then went over the top in grey then white drybrushes, with the odd wash in between. 

You can see the leather and armour peaking through, which I based on this picture. They aren't pure greeny-white which is the most common paint style. I found the success confidence boosting and I may attempt some glow and fire effects based on what I learned. I was surprised how fast and easy it was.

I only have 7 ringwraiths - remember I ordered random job lots from eBay - which I painted rather boldly rather than drybushing to make them 'pop' more from a distance. Two had broken weapons and were customised out of my bitz box.

The Easterlings with their pleasingly uniform paint scheme was another 'low hanging fruit' to chalk up a few more minis before the month ended. They could probably do with more highlighting but I'm on a schedule. 

The only  'must do' LoTR remaining is some 12-16 Rohirrim on horseback and some 5-6 random heroes; the rest is just me trying to trim down spare plastics - i.e. I have only painted 40 or so Mordor orcs I needed, but there is still 100 or so of them in a box, staring accusingly at me. 

Now it's all ready to play - naaah - time to switch to a new project! Imperialis Aeronautica is looking increasingly good - I just found a random Thunderbolt model in one of my 'bulk buy' LoTR boxes and I really like it. It must be a sign!

But.... ....my daughter and I are now reading Mortal Engines. Perhaps its time for some mega tanks and humongous landships....

Monday, 14 February 2022

LOTR: SBG - Haradrim

I've finally hit my last factions - the Haradrim/Easterlings - but my painting pace has slowed as work has been hectic and my enthusiasm for anything is low.  However I'd like to record my weekly 24+ goal - my aim is 24 speedpainted minis plus a few extras (cool side projects, heroes) each week.

As usual, this isn't to show off my admittedly mediocore painting skills but to encourage other 'average dads' to make inroads into their unpainted pile of shame. In my case, 500+ LOTR minis which have sat boxed up for 8 years+.

My only goal is to make the minis acceptable on the table-top. 

One day, when I have copious spare time (presumably my children have grown up and left home!) I'll probably revisit these minis and do a better job - but who am I kidding? I know I'll be chasing some new shiny thing!  

My next task is some low-hanging fruit - either Army of the Dead or Ringwraiths with their limited palette, or some nice uniform Easterlings.  As for those blasted mounted Rohirrim... I'll get some more done eventually...

Because I bought the minis off eBay in job lots, I have random assorted heroes and metal minis. Luckily I have a Haradrim captain which is handy to lead my force.  
 
My daughter (we're well into RoTK together) is deeply interested in LoTR, and unbeknownst to my kids I have actually been teaching them the core mechanics, under the guise of a sandpit game with plastic army men. Dad usually plays the opposing force and the two kids band to beat him. I usually play like a RPG GM - with cinematic tactics - aka just enough to be threatening and tense but not actually win....

The Watchers of Karna guard the haunted cities of the Haradrim. I gave them a dull camo tone to match their role. 

These minis chalk up the first 28 minis of the new month, and give a running total of  258 models in 2022. Besides the above-mentioned LoTR - there's still about 50 or so I've planned to paint this month - I'm gearing up for the arrival of my Dropfleet Commander UCM & PHR fleets, probably by repainting my sadly chipped Full Thrust metals.
 
I've got so far through my LoTR models I'm considering buying some more (small 3-packs of heroes and interesting elite forces) to round out my collection which now covers all the armies of the original trilogy - something I'd have laughed at if you suggested it a year ago.

Gaming-wise, I've reprinted the 2022 incarnation of my Delta Vector space rules (you know, the ones that got me started into game design back in 2013ish) which I've stripped back to their roots. I'm also eyeing off Aeronautica Imperialis (always liked the minis, regard the rules as very average) as my recent investigation of X-Wing for my son makes GW look affordable and reasonable in comparison. If only GW provided free rule pdfs - the lack of transparency with which codexes, campaign books and expansions are needed is the only thing holding me back....

Thursday, 10 February 2022

Game Design #89: Too Many Decisions!

Given my whole game design series began praising 'decision points' - aka opportunity for player agency (decisions/tactics/choices) to influence the game - it seems unusual that I would decry having too many decisions. 

But ever played a boardgame where you just know you'll be stressed and exhausted afterwards?

1.Games can have too many decisions (volume). Humans have a finite amount of concentration/willpower. We can focus well for about 20-25 minutes at a stretch. We have about 3hrs total of executive thinking/complex decision making time per day, which is very glucose-centric. (^Also food for thought about how long your wargame should last)

I'm not a fan of wargames where you can walk away for 20mins and come back and your opponent is still making his move - there's not enough engagement and the 'pacing' is out. But if both players are mentally exhausted by a constant stream of minute-by-minute critical decisions - well, that also might not be ideal. 

If the stream of decisions is relentless - you can't look away for a minute, or have a casual chat with a mate while the game is progressing - then the game is only going to appeal to a particular audience.

2.Decisions can be serious/difficult or easy/inconsequential (impact). Not all decisions are equal in their stress level or consequences. Too many difficult decisions can be draining over sustained gameplay.

For example, in Infinity weapons fire is lethal and cover is very strong. Any opponent in LoS can react and fire on your active unit. You can continue to activate the same model, allowing you to chain together actions and perform deep flanking maneuvers. Each force might only have 5-10 models. Thus: a wrong move in LoS and you can lose a significant chunk of your force - or you could chain a series of inspired moves that allow you to outflank and rambo most of your opponents' force. Most Infinity decisions have serious consequences. 

In contrast, in LoTR:SBG goblin bow fire might only hit on a 5+ and kill on a 6+ - only about 6% chance of death per bowmen shooting at you - and I might have 50 troops in my army. Moving troops in LoS might not be such a weighty, serious decision, both for me or my opponent. Similar is a complex/difficult decision - it's one where you may have complex if/then implications to juggle. Like Chess, where you are trying to look several moves ahead. 

Whether it is the consequences or complexity - in the end it's about the 'brain drain'. Sometimes players need a 'breather' - or down time within the game.

3.Games can emphasize decisions in the wrong places.  This is a bit different to the first two examples. Playtesting my "Forgotten" sci fi horror rules, I kept playing around with rules with initiative and reactions. Rather than using the usual alternate activation (each player taking turns moving a single mini) I slowly evolved it so players rolled an opposed dice every time they did something in LoS of an enemy. This roll did several things - 

(a) determined the sequence of reactions/actions (and if reactions occurred at all, and ammo status) 

(b) if the active player rolled below a target number, the initiative switched to the reacting player

It was actually a pretty good rule. A single roll that accomplished a few things at once, and lots of tension every time you activated a mini. Lots of potential decisions - not only what you now, but if you lose the initiative - then what?

This initiative phase was so gripping I was spending all my time checking angles and thinking about future implications/facing. Unfortunately I was so intent on this I kept forgetting a whole layer of the game - the demonic entities that could possess troops (a bit like Warmachine) and the horror/morale effects.

This mechanic would be great for a modern spec ops/SWAT game where the gunplay/angles/positioning was the point of the whole game. But for my horror game with psychic and sci fi tech elements they were the wrong choice - a set of serious decisions that drew attention away from what made it a unique horror game. I had a decent mechanic but it focuses decisions in the wrong place.

                                           Are all the decisions in all the right places? 

While points #1 and #2 were more focussed on the mental effort required by the player, this last point links more with the feel of the game. A contrasting example:

Warmachine is interested in the use of focus, synergies between units. It has IGOUGO which usually gives too much mental down time (aka disengagement) to the inactive player. I generally dislike IGOUGO but it is a good choice for Warmachine as otherwise it would be difficult to co-ordinate units. In contrast to my example above, it has a (usually) poor mechanic which suits the feel of the game. 

(Edit) #4: Pacing. This may be the word I am looking for. Ever had a movie or book start well, but you lose interest halfway through? Other times (as per #1) a movie *cough Michael Bay cough* has so many relentless action scenes and explosions you actually become numb to them. Yes, I've fallen asleep during Transformers. This is probably kinda an overlap between #1 and #3 - sometimes in a game, if you are bombarded with too many decisions it's hard to see the actual critical ones. You can't appreciate or identify a critical decision or moment in the game. Can you identify the epic or 'oh s--t' moments afterwards? "I knew I lost when my wizard used his ultimate feat but failed due to..."  or "cavalry charge broke orc skirmish line." 

These critical decisions should also align with the key focus or feel of the game (#3). A game about sci fi horror should pivot on moments like "held ground and unjammed gun when faced with space ghouls due to team-mate morale boost" or "moved out of wifi range of corrupted cyber entity" not just be "established overlapping fire lanes/angles" every time.

I guess pacing is - are there critical moments in the game (like a book or movie), which align with the core focus 'feel' of the game - or is there such a relentless torrent of decisions you have no idea what went wrong and cannot point to the key passages of play. If every decision is equally epic, then they are all actually 'average'.

(Edit) #5. Long term strategic decisions vs short term reactions. In Chess you can sometimes see key moments building to a climax many moves ahead of time. In contrast, many reaction-based wargames (or ones with random activation) deliberately take agency from the player with almost no ability to plan ahead. I'm not advocating one over the other - it depends on your game design aim. Some players like strategically thinking far ahead to play plans - others like the feeling of just barely controlling chaos.

But a game that allows capacity for both short term tit-for-tat reactive play AND retains some long term planning might be a richer experience. A bit like TV series - some have great one-off episodes but no overall season arc. Others have mediocre acting and episodes but you keep watching because of the longer story season arc. Some TV shows have both great individual episodes and a good arc.

TL:DR
A high volume of decisions or many difficult decisions (aka complex decisions or those with serious consequences) can place a high mental load on players.  Other times, the wrong decisions can be emphasized - i.e. the players effort and attention is focussed on something that should not be central to the game, giving a completely different feel to the game than was intended.

Note: I may come back to this topic as I'm tired and feel I've only scratched the surface - so don't be startled if there's an edit adding in more points later, when I can articulate my thoughts better.

Sunday, 6 February 2022

Dropfleet Commander Rules Review

No, it's not the 'next level' space game I'm always looking for. It's basically an upgraded, tweaked Battlefleet Gothic, which focuses on objectives while orbiting a planet. But I'm going to play it anyway.

The Shiny

The rulebook is pretty. It's good quality. Nice art.  Glossy. Not a huge fan of the landscape layout - I find it harder to use.  It has an index. There are profiles for all the ships at release, so no 'codexes' needed - which is good. About 30 pages of fluff and background that you might enjoy but I was totally uninterested in. Given you can get the rules for free, with plenty of quick reference pdfs, token printouts and record sheets you can't really complain. It seems like GW is the only one not giving out free rules nowadays (stares meaningfully at $98AUD LOTR rules - without codexes).

Dropfleet Commander shares a lot of similarities with its ancestor.

Overhead/Accessibility

The rules are ~50 pages and the basic mechanics are pretty straightforward. Ship stats are very similar in layout to BFG. Ships have Hull (hitpoints), Armour (saving roll), Signature, Scan (both to do with detection range), Thrust (speed), PD (AA against missiles and fighters), and special rules like launch and atmospheric. Also size/tonnage (L, M, H etc) matters to initiative and tactics, and group size (i.e. how many in a typical squadron). Weapons have a lock (to hit) roll, and usually are usually grouped in batteries. Most weapons do a single hit damage, but there are quite a few variations and simple but flavorful special rules.

Annoyingly, DFC uses special decks - a command card deck and special bases, as well as a battlegroup deck (although for the latter I am making my own with normal playing cards). The ships come on special bases but you could get by without them. The craze for tokens, templates and stuff is pretty restrained compared to X-Wing or Armada*. (*My son loves Star Wars, and although I like the idea of X-Wing - and enjoyed its ancestor, Wings of War - I can't justify paying $30 for a single plastic spaceship, knowing I'm really mostly paying for the cards, not the mini which you can get 5 for $20 in a Micromachines box...).

Activation & Initiative

You put your ships together in battlegroups, writing them down on a battlegroup card. The total tonnage on the card determines activation order - i.e. a battlegroup with a cruiser (5) and 2 escorts (2) = 7 would be more agile than one with a single heavy cruiser (10). Basically you arrange your "hand" of battlegroup cards however you want, and then you and your opponent reveal and compare the top card of your decks, the player with the lowest rating (most nimble) battlegroup choosing whose battlegroup acts first.  It's an interesting idea and allows for a little 'management' minigame of sequencing your 'hand' of battlegroups to best effect. Ships tend to move in coherency aka grouped together. 

Orders

If it's BFG roots weren't already obvious from the stats and layout (Andy Chalmers is a designer) this cinched it. The orders are pretty similar in effect - weapons free (fire all weapons); station keeping (move slowly/pivot); course change (extra turn), max thrust (double speed) as well as silent running and active scans - something that ties in with the new detection rules.

Detection

This is a very cool idea in theory. Basically, Ship A has a Scan (autodetect) range of say 8"; and a Ship B has a 6" Signature radius (say 6" but will vary on ship size). So Ship A will detect Ship B at 8+6 = 14" away. In addition, firing lots of weapons or boosting thrusters makes the ship light up like a Christmas tree (+6" Minor Spike, +12" Major Spike) - and ships can reduce this by Running Silent.

The bigger you are, and the more stuff you do - the farther away people can shoot you from. So a small sneaky ship might only be able to be engaged by enemies 6" away while a battleship can be fired on by everyone within 24"+. Finally a way to give small ships a chance?

Sounds cool, and I've been using a similar-ish idea in my own rules, but I suspect people will sneak for the first turn or two, then everyone goes nuts shooting and zooming; and thus render it all moot.

Movement

It's the typical 'travel half your move then turn' to give the feel of momentum; but turns are 45d and many special orders you can't turn at all. It's pretty ponderous, and even small stuff isn't that agile. Maybe I remember it wrong - but even BFG ships weren't this clumsy?

I'm anxiously awaiting my official Hawk minis. Until then I will proxy with Cold Navy.

Combat

Typical 'roll a handful of d6s' scoring to hit, then rolling saving throws in an attempt to cancel them out. Similar to BFG but slicker as you don't need a stupid chart. Scores of 2 more than the target number do a critical i.e. if it's 4+ to hit, a 6 is a crit. Basically Full Thrust. Critical hits can't be 'saved.' Once a ship loses 50% hitpoints it rolls on Critical Hit sub-tables. This defeats the purpose of the special dial for hitpoints on the base of the ship - you're going to be recording critical effects over time anyway. A ship losing all HP dies with various spectacular effects. 

Launch assets (aka fighters, bombers, dropships, torpedoes etc) use abstract BFG-esque rules and are placed alongside their target or the ship they are defending - they don't swan around independently.  They can be engaged by PD as expected and ships can even do sharp turns to evade their attack runs.

Atmosphere

Another 'cool new thing' - DFC presumes no one fights in deep space (after all, what are they fighting over) - but rather over planets at 3 orbital altitudes - high, low, and atmosphere. Ships can change up and down one level per move (-4" move to climb up) and crippled ships may 'fall' through layers. Shooting between layers is a -1 penalty to hit. Only small craft and drop ships tend to be designed to work in the atmosphere layer. There are debris fields, space stations and small moons in orbit. 

Ground Combat

Now this is pretty much how you win the game - capturing ground objectives. There are clusters made up of several sectors (the actual sites you capture or bombard). The sectors have their own HP and troops occuping them must make saves when they are getting bombarded. There is a whole ground mini-game aka paper-scissors-rock-with-dice-chugging which I frankly thought was pretty crappy.

The whole atmosphere and ground combat will be a deal breaker for some. The game is kinda focussed on it. Just eyeballing the rules, I'm pretty confident I could cheese wins in this area. While I appreciate the attempt to move away from the typical 'move the ships into the middle and chug dice' to focus on objectives, it won't be everyone's cup of tea.

Extra Rules

There's about 30-40 special rules from cloaking devices, special sensors, regenerative hulls to burnthrough lasers that use the dubious exploding dice technique. 

There's pretty BFG-esque fleet organisation charts explaining what ships can go with what, and how many. I.e. both allowances and layout of specific battlegroups and the amount of specific battlegroups within fleets. 

There are 8 scenarios but I suspect the website has more (I haven't downloaded and looked through everything yet). There are simple campaigns and ideas for integrating with DFC's sister game, not-Epic Dropzone Commander, but no rules for upgrading ships and crew etc like BFG. 

The UCM can certainly can evoke the 'cathederals in space' and I also am buying the porpoises-with-lasers PHR ships.

TL:DR

It's evolutionary not revolutionary - an updated BFG with lovely models. The focus on orbital combat and objectives rather than a typical deep space kill-them-all may put some off, but it's far more of a traditional wargame than FFG's CCG-with-minis-SW:Armada and far more interesting than the blandness of Firestorm Armada.

It's not quick - I reckon 2hrs+ for a basic battle and while an attempt was made to reduce recording it wasn't that successful. I'm also not a fan of 'special' card desks although you could probably play without them (and I probably will - I don't enjoy the 'gotcha' factor).

The game has been out for a while (I've had the rulebook since 2016) so there are probably more exhaustive reviews and plenty of AARs - and the rules are free! This is just for the blog regulars for whom this game may have flown under the radar.

Recommended: Yes. Battlefleet Gothic was a surprisingly good, fun game and Dropfleet Commander builds on that legacy with more improvements than mis-steps.

Saturday, 5 February 2022

Game Design #88: The Melee Dilemma

Melee is usually done poorly in wargames, even in games where it is the primary mode of combat, like vikings or fantasy:

Push models together, roll dice, remove the loser. 

Once we push the models together, our decision making is done. We just 'roll off.' In a modern combat game in an era of automatic weapons and suppressive fire, keeping it basic makes sense. But shouldn't we expect more in a medieval or gladiatorial game?

Melee has a dilemma. You have to balance speed of play, -vs- interesting decisions and mechanics. It's not sensible to have a complex melee mini-game for a game with 50+ models. If the melee resolution is too complex and time consuming, you may as well remove the models and maneuver factor all together and turn it into a boardgame or cardgame.  Balance is important.

I'm going to make up some hypothetical examples, but don't focus on the precise details, but rather bear in mind the big picture - the need for speed/ease of play/quick resolution vs posing interesting risk vs reward decisions.

Example #1 = "Videogame" Complexity

Nearly all PC RPGs share a similar choice of moves. You could tie this to a resource management mechanic, but it could simply be based on modifiers. I.e. a slow power attack is -1 to hit but +1 to damage, a quick attack is +1 to hit but -1 to damage.

Quick Attack = less damage, higher chance to strike first/better 'to hit' %

Normal Attack = default

Power Attack = higher damage, slower so strikes later/lower 'to hit' %

Dodge/Roll = move to back/side short distance + % chance to dodge enemy strike (agility based)

Parry = stand ground, deflect enemy strike, maybe allow a follow-up counter attack

Kick/Bash = knock back/knock down enemy (strength based)

AoE Stomp/Spin = attack multiple foes, knock back in 180/360 arc

Finisher/Backstab = instant-kill disadvantaged enemy who has back turned/stunned/prone

These are some common examples. As a bonus, they are familiar to most gamers. There's choice but it's not excessive -  you would probably memorize the attacks after a few games. LOTR:SBG (which handles skirmish of 30-50 per side) kinda falls into the simple end of this territory - there is a similar choice of special attacks, tied to the type of weapon (swords can parry, flails & whips can whirl, two handed weapons can power attack). So not every rank-and-file can access every single melee choice which both speeds things up and gives troop types 'flavour'.

This is my personal favourite level of complexity as it adds some choices and cinematic action while still being quick to resolve. 

However, it's still pretty basic. We can delve into resource management and allow far more 'choice' and complexity:

Example #2:  The Melee Management Mini Game

This is some sort of resource management mini-game, using ordinary dice or playing cards*. *Because while bespoke dice/rulers/special bases can be useful, it's usually a dick move based on selling extra stuff to gamers. 

These are ideas I just randomly made up - they are not 'solutions', just examples to help frame the discussion.

2A ="Card Hand" - maybe each player draws cards, perhaps based on their melee skill. I.e. a Rookie gets 2 cards, Experienced gets 3, and a Veteran/Elite gets 4. Players then choose from their cards and place them down simultaneously. Maybe black cards are defensive and red cards are offensive, or some require stamina to play, or maybe you need to have a card below your relevant stat to play it.

You can see that the very nature of the 52-cards deck means this mini-game could spiral into a game of staggering complexity if you don't stay focussed. Kinda like every time two wizards have a spellcasting duel you play a complete game of Magic: The Gathering before returning to your wargame. So you'd need to exercise extreme caution to prevent a card-based mini-game from becoming excessively complex.

Merely for the sake of avoiding the rabbit hole, I probably favour:

2B = "Dice Pool" - maybe each player similarly has a pool of dice aligning with their melee ability - perhaps tossed and hidden under a cup. There's less potential for complexity to get out of hand if you just use a few d6s each. Maybe you 'bid' to perform certain moves, like in Liars Dice (the dice game they played in Pirates of the Carribean). Maybe you use combinations of dice for special attacks or play particular dice to strike first.

Note: I'd only consider the mini-game method if we had less than, say, 10 models per side - think of the potential time sink when resolving each and every melee using even the simplest card draw mechanics. A 4v4 gladiator game, yep! A mass battle game - nope!

Warning: There's a zillion variations of dice and card games, so there's a lot of rich ground to be explored - but while they can add a lot of complex decisions, maneuvers and cinematic action there is a potential time sink in complexity, where the melee mini game becomes the entire game, almost rendering terrain, models and maneuvering irrelevant.

TL:DR

Melee is usually done poorly even in wargame genres that focus on it. Too often, the only melee 'tactics'/decision is who fights who.  Then the dice (RNG) takes over. There's room for simple tweaks - like the 'videogame method' to spice things up without going overboard. However, the dilemma is that all card or dice melee mechanics must be balanced against the speed of resolution. There's lots of amazing potential for card-hand and dice pools to create tactical, cinematic melee duels, at the risk of bloating the game or becoming the sole focus of the game.

Wednesday, 2 February 2022

LOTR: SBG - Speedpainted Corsairs of Umbar and Rohirrim

I finally embarked on the Rohirrim - I've been put off by the size of the job - 20 or so cavalry and 80+ infantry. Veteran Napoleonics or Warhammer Fantasy players may scoff at me, but as a longtime skirmish player I tend to be paralyzed by significant quantities of minis. I mean, my LOTR minis have languished for 10 years, as I stupidly bought big used boxes off ebay and got all the factions. Meanwhile, I casually collected Warmachine in small quanities on an ad hoc basis, and they are always painted up to date. Note to self: always buy minis in small quantities. Yeah, right.

Sadly my suspicions I would not paint the white shields well were correct. They are acceptable at tabletop range I suppose. Another box set of 24 rank-and-file ticked off.

A more fun job was 24 Corsairs of Umbar.  I went with the GW-style blue-and-purple scheme rather than the movie browns-and-blacks - I've painted enough LOTR minis in drab realistic hues, thank you very much.

Annoyingly they ended up more blue than purple - I kinda wanted more of a dark purple vibe. While they are aggressively highlighted and won't win any awards, they 'pop' pretty well on the tabletop. 

I'd like to improve on the very basic basing for both, but am awaiting better flocking etc for the Rohirrim. I think I was in a rush to complete them by the end of January so I could surpass '200+ in a month' barrier - the 48 minis brings my monthly painted total to a whopping 230.

As usual my 8-y/o daughter arrived and took an interest. She asked me to include her photos - here are her poses of choice:

   
 
Evil or not, she prefers the prettier corsairs. We're finishing Two Towers together and she likes investigating the minis to try to tease spoilers out of me.

I continue to rather listlessly (but productively) paint. I've been thinking about a few other game design topics - (a) how can we make deployment (setting out minis) less of a chore and more an integral part of the game tactics - inspired by ideas from PC's Steel Division 2 (b) how could we introduce respawning into a game (I think Privateer Press' new sci-fi game does this) and (c) could we have terrain that is able to be manipulated once the game is under way in a simple way (obviously from a cyberpunk/sci fi/fantasy angle).

The unpainted LOTR pile of shame is shrinking rapidly. I'm going to make a start on the Easterlings and Haradrim so I can say I have models from every faction done, then I'll circle back to those bloody Rohirrim horses.

Monday, 24 January 2022

LOTR: SBG - Fellowship of the Ring

These models were a blast from the past - some of the first GW models I painted - 20 years ago! I repainted some, tidied others and gave them my basic quick base - pva + sand + cheap brown craft paint + drybrush of choice.

I mostly have a random assortment of heroes and characters  as I bought my LoTR models in 'job lots' but I have multiples of various Fellowship. This is a complete original plastic set.

I also found a Grima Wormtongue and a 'proper' Radgast the Brown when ferreting through my 'heroes' tub. You know, not the birdshit-smeared abomination from the Hobbit movies, themselves three giant turds which I like to pretend never occurred. 

So you spend millions for the rights to a beloved book with a built-in fanbase, then change it completely, with brand new antagonists and characters. I mean, what were they thinking?

"Lets add in a character, Radgast the Brown . He's a powerful wizard like Gandalf and Saruman, only interested in nature."

"Cool, cool - how do you envision him fitting in?"

"He's not actually in the Hobbit though."

"Even better! We can show how much clever than Tolkien we studio writers are!"

"We'll give him an irrelevant role to pad out the movie, but - get this - we can have him ride a sled pulled by rabbits!"

"Woah! That's epic!"

"And - get this - we can give him a hat smeared in bird shit!"

"Hilarious - OK do it - you're a creative genius!"

It can only be arrogance. Studio writers who think they can do better than a famous, beloved author. Although in the case of Eragon, that wouldn't be hard. I quit after the second chapter as the author didn't actually know what half the words meant, was a master of 'tell don't show' and had more logic gaps than in filler episodes of TV series.

Obviously, you need to change some things when you transfer a book to another medium. But wholesale changes and needless additions to key plot points, motives and characters kinda make it a different story entirely. At which point you wonder why they bothered buy the film rights? Has no one noticed that the shows that follow books more closely seem to be the most well liked (Harry Potter, LoTR, first seasons of GoT).

I'm pretty sure a train wreck awaits Amazon's Lord of the Rings, Ring of Power (<- even the title is stupid: like Game of Thrones: The Throne) and it's likely range of heroic hobbits of various ethnicity and gender identities.You know, the hobbits who weren't even relevant in the Second Age. Jordan isn't an amazing author but Amazon managed to screw up Wheel of Time spectacularly. Heck, unlike GoT they had all the books! Change for the sake of change isn't a good rationale, especially when you have scriptwriters of such cringeworthy standard. Heck, even if it was just a fantasy show which shared the same character names it would be bad.   /rant

The Hobbits keep their original 20-y/o paint, merely touched up a bit.

Gandalf, Boromir and Aragon got new paint jobs as they didn't align with the movies. Somehow I had Aragon in a red outfit? Note to self: highlighting is too bold and aggressive - as I've been doing the 'wash last' technique like I do for 15mm - this is by going aggressively lighter with contrasting base colours, than washing at the end to mute/blend. This means you can skip some highlighting - fine for rank and file but probably not a good idea for main characters. Oh well, I'll dig out some metal versions later and do them more carefully then.

Gimli got a new paint job while Legolas only got a touch-up. Also note to self - learn photography as blurry phone photos are tiresome. 

I think my model count for 2022 stands at 182. I think I've even based the last of my LoTR models (admittedly, about 80 of them) so I feel the end is in sight. Being tired and sick is super productive on the painting front. I'm too tired to care much about fussy detail, and I'm too sick to concentrate on more complex high-effort work and hobbies. Painting is like colouring-in for dads!



Saturday, 22 January 2022

LOTR SBG: Heroes (Elf, Gondor, Mordor)

I've kinda been mass-producing rank and file but I do need some heroes (LOTR does hinge around them, after all). Usually I spend more time on them but they are strictly to tabletop standard as I get tired easily.

I got these 10+ years ago; they're the original 2001-2005 sculpts. While Grisnakh (far right) is recognisable from the movies (as the one who chased Merry & Pippin into the woods and got stomped by Treebeard) I needed a quick google to find Gorbag and Shagrat and a banner bearer. They are all minor ~50 point heroes.

I needed the collector's guide to identify a few here. While Elrond, Galadriel (in blue, not white, as I hate painting bright whites) and Haldir aligned with their movie versions, I didn't recognise Legolas' dad (Thranduil, far left) and neither Gil-Galad or Glorfindel (top right and bottom right respectively). One of the elves is just a standard metal warrior who I gave a red cape and made a captain.

The elf heroes are some big hitters (in the 160-170pts range). To give you an idea of scale, a normal orc is 5pts. From memory, Glorfindel is a monster in CQC, easily soloing ringwraiths and capable of going toe to toe with balrogs. Why the heck he wasn't invited as part of the Fellowship is beyond me. I kinda wonder how the movies would have went if he was included. Gandalf wouldn't have taken the high dive in Moria, for starters.

I've got a few Faramirs - foot, mounted, and in ranger guise. I have one of his ranger sidekicks - Damrod? - along with Denethor and a captain and some bannermen.

I'm reading Two Towers to my daughter and she was very excited to see Galadriel. Her complaint about my wargames is there's never enough 'girl' fighters. Actually if anyone knows of any good sensible-sized female heads I'd like to know, as some of my modern special forces have had head swaps to turn them into girls and I'm running low.

My 8-year daughter took this shot, posed as she decided Galadriel was the most important character.

She also correctly identified Denethor as ranking leader of Gondor and asked if both her photos could be included on 'your internet thing.'  She has offered to take over photography for the blog if she gets to 'set them up' and pose them into dioramas.

Anyway, these heroes were not done to my usual hero standard, but they are functional and table-ready. My main aim is to clear out my 500+ strong LOTR pile, which has intimidated me for about 10 years. With 171 models completed this month, most of which are LOTR, I'm now past halfway - probably 2/3rds done.

Gondor is now joins Isengard, Elves, Moria, and Dwarves in the 'battle-ready' pile. Mordor is also good to go, but I feel like I should do something about the 60 or so cannonfodder orcs I have 'spare.' 

Only Easterlings and the intimidatingly-numerous Rohan remain as part of the 'empire of undercoat', and I'm quite excited about the former. 

As usual, this post is just to track progress and inspire other 'average' painters. Often blogs have flawlessly painted minis, crafted over many hours and countless coats and layers. I actually find them intimidating rather than inspirational. I like to represent the 'rest of us' - the time-poor dads for whom the undercoat-wash-highlight is the pinnacle of artistic achievement.

Friday, 21 January 2022

LOTR: SBG - Gondor

I've been sick off and on (not COVID, but some other mystery fever which seems to randomly lay me out every second day) but I've actually found mini painting the one thing I can do with little mental effort. Or when listening to hours-long working-from-home briefings (it's like a podcast, only less exciting).

Anyway, I finished off most of my Gondor forces as they didn't require much mental effort. Black and silver, yay!

 Combined with 24 rank and file I did the other day, I've got about ~60 Gondor troops. This is typical of each of my LOTR factions as 50-60 is the upper end of the amount of minis the LOTR rules can handle in a single battle.

Another 37 models takes my 2022 tally of painted models (all genres) to 153. In less than a month it's probably better than my entire 2021 output, and I ascribe it to COVID which is only now sweeping through Australia.  (We had strict lockdowns and border quarantines, but in most states esp rural areas actually lived pretty ordinary daily lives, until our govt decided to 'let it rip' at Christmas and now we're basically repeating everyone else's mistakes, just a year later. I think the aim was to improve the economy but everyone's doing self-imposed lockdowns anyway so it backfired and we went from 1 death a day average to 70+) 

 

I only had 5 cavalry. Remember I bought these in random 'job lots' of about 50c or less a mini.

The metal Citadel Guard and Guards of the Fountain Court are probably OOP now. I really hate the universal switch to resin.

I only painted half my plastic Rangers of Gondor (actually have about a dozen+ metals as well); as painting non-uniform models in random colour schemes is too much for my tired brain - besides, the 'only 33% of your force as bows' rule means I'm not going to get to use many in a Gondor army anyway.

So I can now move Gondor into the '99% done' pile. Only Rohan and Easterlings to go; plus the option of doubling or even tripling my 32-strong force of Mordor rank-and-file orcs - the latter doesn't sound too fun to be honest. I also have ~50 metal heroes for various factions which I plan to be my 'reward' for finishing the armies. (I only do armies from LOTR movies, not the Hobbit movies, which I regard as non-canon*).

*I ranted about Tolkien's long-winded over-descriptiveness in another post, but having recently attempted Eragon with my daughter I appreciate Tolkien more. While the pacing can be excruciating, at least Tolkien has great literacy skills! Eragon is like reading a fanfic by Grade 7 kid who just discovered adjectives and transferred the plot of Star Wars to a fantasy setting.

I had hopes of doing more creative stuff like working on and playtesting rules and doing articles on game design, but my brain is too fuzzy. Well, at least the lead mountain is diminishing!

Before I get too cocky, I realise I still have a LOT of Infinity models that sit staring accusingly at me but I've always felt my painting skills were inadequate for their sculpts at the best of times...

Monday, 10 January 2022

Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game - Rules Manual - Review

Due to painting hundreds of (2001 era) LOTR minis I bought years ago for literal cents, I felt it might be OK to splurge on an updated rulebook. At $98AUD it's definitely a luxury purchase. I'd rate the original 2001 rules as some of the best and most clean and elegant GW has ever produced - along with the OOP spin offs Legends of the Old West (cowboys) and Legends of the High Seas (pirates). I always thought a d10 version of this could have been a better way forward for 40K. So how resistant have the original 2001 rules been to GW's tendency to complication and meddling?

A: While there's more special rules, it's still pretty good. It's the same core game.

LOTR would rival Blood Bowl and Battlefleet Gothic as my most played GW game. Here's a shot from 10 years ago, where I discovered the underrated goblin ability to scale vertical surfaces....

The Shiny

The rulebook is very nice. Having just spent $35 on an incomplete pdf (cough Killwager cough) your $98 (or cheaper if you don't pay the magical Australia penalty rates) buys you 200+ pages of some very nice production values in a glossy hardcover. There are lots of lovely photos of minis for reference and the rules are easy to read. Each gameplay phase has its own chapter. There's an index, but no quick reference (you need to pay GW $55 for that) and the army stats are in separate books - for Armies of LOTR or Armies of the Hobbit. Not codexes at least - the books have all the relevant armies from each film, but it was an extra $98 I was unwilling to pay. Given I also liked Battle Companies (LOTR's Necromunda/Mordhiem equivalent) - yep an extra $84 - and the 3 necessary rulebooks alone could have cost me $280AUD (aka $200 freedumbucks). Which would be fking ridiculous.  While the book itself is great, and is probably a fair price if you don't live in Australia, the overall 'buy in' is crazy. No wonder people pirate pdfs off the net. I'm not saying you can get everything ever printed by GW about LOTR if you google in the right places *cough cough* and of course it is wrong...  ...almost as wrong as charging people $200+ for the rules to your game which many competitors do for free)

Overhead

Besides the insane rulebook+army book buy in ($200-280AUD) the rest is pretty reasonable. While the minis are smaller and less impressive (I personally prefer the more realistic, less potato-faced proportions) they are cheaper than 40K - you usually get twice as many models for the cost.  And the rules scale brilliantly - it handles 5 v 5 or 50 v 50 with equal aplomb. You could get started with a single unit box. Mentally, it's dead easy to learn - (it's similar to 40K yet simpler and has more naunce) and you'd rarely need to refer to the rulebook except ME:SBG has way more 'special rules' than the 2001 LOTR:SBG version. A tape with inches and a d6 and you're set.

Model stats are "Move, Fight, Shoot, Strength, Defence, Attacks, Wounds, Courage - all self explanatory. Heroes additionally have a finite amount of 1-3 Might, Will and Fate they can use to influence dice rolls, cheat death, perform magic, interrupt the initiative etc.

Basically, if you can cope with the initial rulebook sticker shock, the minis and armies are (relative to GW) cheap, easy to paint and the core game itself is easy to grasp.

I've continued to sporadically paint and play LOTR over the years - the sole GW game that has held my interest over time.. The red-headed stepchild of GW, LOTR has never been well appreciated...

Initiative, Activation & Movement

LOTR:SBG moved away from IGOUGO back in 2001 (back in 40K - 5th ed?) and broke up the turns into phases, which makes the game flow more. Sides roll d6 each, winner chooses who has "Priority." Roughly, it is P1 move, P2 move, P1 shoot, P2 shoot, P1 choose melee sequence. Sometimes not having priority is good (it means you can react to their move) and your heroes (and nearby troops) can act out of sequence; giving them actual command/control rather than just being tanks/dps monsters.

Models have a 1" AoE 'control zone' which enemies cannot move through, allowing you to make formations and shieldwalls and making the fight sequence (who fights who first) and 'pushback' melee results very relevant.

There are rules for climbing, defending obstacles, crawling, climbing, jumping etc and all tend to consistently use a simple method - roll d6, 1=great, 2-5=average, 6=disaster.

Combat

Shooting is just rolling a number or higher on a d6. Targets can roll a cover save if appropriate. Then you need to consult the 'to wound' chart. I'm not a fan of having to consult a chart for something so often used in the game, but you'll probably quickly memorize the most common combinations. 

Fight (melee) is just rolling a dice for each Attack. The Fight stat itself is just relevant for winning ties. I've never liked this method as I always feel more Attacks >>> Fight skill. It's quick to resolve, though.

The loser backs away 1" (which opens up gaps in formations due to the 'control zone' rule) then the winner rolls for wounds according to the same damage chart as Shooting. Models trapped by terrain or friendlies who cannot move aside, must roll for double wounds. 

Courage is tested when armies lose 50% - annoyingly this is every model in your force, for the remainder of the game - or when faced with a Terror-inducing opponent. Heroes not in melee can automatically rally nearby friendlies if they pass their Courage roll.

 Heroes, Monsters & Wargear

Heroes are done better here than in many other games.  They have a finite supply (1-3) of Might, Will and Fate. Once used they are gone. 

Might - the most interesting - allows you to modify dice rolls by +1 or perform Heroic Actions (basically moving and shooting/fighting out of sequence with yourself or nearby allies). A new addition is specialized heroic actions for particular heroes - such as double movement, shooting re-rolls, 'overboost' spells, and huge fight and defence boosts. These special rules are new to MESBG and while they add flavour and character they are something else to remember. Will is for casting spells and resisting magic. Fate allows you an extra 'save' throw to block a wound. So someone like Boromir might logically have lots of Might, probably no Will and and not much Fate.

I often borrow elements of this idea for my games, as it has simple resource management, and allows heroes to actually 'command' by acting out of sequence with nearby friendlies, making organic 'squads' happen naturally rather than being constrained by artificial "stay within 3" cohesion of each other."

Monsters also have some cinematic power attacks allowing them to hurl, barge or rend. These can be used to break through formations, rip apart well armoured foes, and fling enemies into foes or obstacles, or off a cliff. 

Weapons have simple, subtle rules that differentiate them. Spears allow the second rank to add +1 attack to the frontline. Elven weapons are more likely to win tied Fight rolls. Two-handed weapons are unwieldy to fight with but do more damage.  The weapons may also (circa 2018) do special strikes like feint+stab, piercing strike, stun and whirl which have unique benefits. 

The LOTR rules served as the base of many other games - here's French and Indian wars scouts fighting dinosaurs which were easily adapted from the core rules with surprisingly few tweaks...

Magic & Special Rules

Magic can be cast in the movement phase. The magician sgets 1d6 each Will spent and if it passes the spell's casting value the spell succeeds. Targets can use Will to resist the sorcery - if they pass the casting value they negate the spell. There are some 36 spells, which is probably reasonable ME:SBG is a collection of all prior rules. There are also 37 special rules for both characters (swift movement, terror, expert shot, stalk unseen) and gear (poisoned weapons, blades of dead, bane) which again is pretty restrained. 

There are also advanced rules for shallow/deep water, carrying objects, swimming, passengers on mounts, sentries etc - which are useful for specific scenarios. There are also rules for sieges and siege weapons for recreating particular battles.

There are rules for competitive play. I always appreciate a points system - while inevitably flawed, they are a good rule of thumb to balance forces even in fun games with kids. Different heroes allow more rank-and-file to be brought; Aragon allows 18 troops to be brought, but a minor hero might only allow 6. There are 12 scenarios which is a bit above average.

The remaining 100 pages of the book are army photos (aka wargaming pr0n) of all the Hobbit and LOTR armies which is a useful reference - but I'd rather they included the stats and didn't charge me $98 for an extra book! There are also 4 example armies showing their points value and explaining the thought process behind it.

TL:DR 

A very well laid out book on it's own, but when you need 1-2 extra books the price quickly becomes excessive. The rules are familiar and straightforward, and although quite a few special rules (especially around heroes) have been added it retains the 'clean' core of 2001. It's one of the rare few games that scales from 5v5 to 50v50, and you can start with relatively few models which are also cheaper than GW's main lines.

While initiative/activation is simple it's still broken up into 4-5 phases, allowing tactical interplay and reaction beyond IGOUGO. I like how heroes actually can form organic squads without restrictive cohesion rules. This is rare. Might/Will/Fate add a simple layer of resource management and also allows heroes to 'lead' aka meddle with the initiative sequence - they aren't just 'dps' or 'tanks.'

ME:SBG does unfortunately use quite a few different resolution mechanics, and the extra rules creep plus the damage chart means it isn't quite the rulebook-free experience it could be. Nonetheless, I contend it's still one of the best rulesets GW ever produced. It's also been remarkably resilient to meddling - except for extra bolt on fluff, 20 years later it's still pretty much the same as it was in 2001 - a testament to it's original design. While I remember Mordhiem and Blood Bowl with nostalgia, they are really dated and clunky.  LOTR has really held up well over time. If only the rulebooks were cheaper.

You can use LOTR  for War of the Roses with pretty much 0 adaption. 
 Other folk have already done some work such as the Age of the Trebuchet adapotion.

Recommended: If you've got the coin, yeah. If you like LOTR, absolutely. Apart from the rulebooks themselves(!), building an army is relatively cheap - for GW.  Even if you don't like fantasy - I often use it as a reference, and it adapts well for historical battles - you could play ancients/dark ages/medieval skirmishes with almost 0 adjustment*, and GW even published cowboy and pirate versions

If you just want the core rules and don't need the latest and greatest: an Ebay copy of the old rules - maybe the old small softcover blue book which even has the unit profiles? - would be 1/4 of the price. It would certainly be an easy way to introduce a player into historical gaming.

*I remember a fanmade viking game called Age of Blood v2 which I'm actually looking for (freewargaming link is broken) to play with my kids who have found and appropriated some of my PSC/Gripping Beast minis...

Sunday, 9 January 2022

LOTR: SBG - More Speedpainted Elves & Goblins

I'm both feeling sick, and also flooded in (it's Queensland, cyclones are inevitable - I'm talking a 10m+ river rise). So I'm quite productive paint-wise, as I am too crook to do outside tasks (like mow my ankle-length grass), but just OK enough to listlessly paint some rank and file to a mediocore-yet-table-ready standard.


First, 24 Moria goblins gives me a total of 48 Moria cannon fodder. Once I finish my Balrog I'm pretty much done, as I've already done prowlers, captains and cave trolls last Christmas.

 Next, the final 12 wood elf rangers meaning I've done the whole box. Some were repaints from my earliest ever painting efforts from ~15? years ago. Heck, this blog dates back to 2011.  I still have half a dozen elven heroes to paint but I'll save those for when I'm more alert/coherent.


Finally, the final 12 Galadhrim. I tend to paint in multiples of 12 - basically it means paint has dried sufficiently by the time I return to the first model in the queue, and with my casual speedpaint style (base+wash+highlights) I can finish 12 all in an hour or so. It's a manageable 'chunk.' 

So these 48 miniatures means my 2022 total painted now stands at 116 after only 10 days.  It's probably not a lot to the masochists suckers dedicated souls who paint regiments of Napoleonics, but for someone like me who only plays skirmish games with under 20 per side, it's a fair chunk.

My LOTR lead mountain of 500+ minis has has a significant bite taken out of it.

99% DONE: My elves, uruks, dwarves and goblins are pretty much completed save the odd hero or monster.

WORKING ON: Mordor and Gondor are halfway- I have 40 or so painted of each but another 40 each to go. They are functional, painted armies though.

HAVEN'T TOUCHED: I have a metric shitton of Rohirrim (20+ cavalry, 60+ foot) and a bunch of Easterlings (~80 various). I did watch Two Towers last night for inspiration so there may be some movement on the Rohan box. If only the LOTR wasn't shot with that bloody blue-green tint so I could actually see the colours....

As I'm feeling sick and un-alert, I'm not doing any playtesting, game design analysis etc lately. However I DID buy the new Middle Earth: SBG core rules for $70AUD (a steal as they are usually $98AD) which arrived before the floodwaters.

It's weird that GW does not take the cake for most stupidly overpriced thing I bought all holidays - that'd be a $35AUD Killwager PDF. An incomplete PDF at that. Early access comes to tabletop wargaming - yay. That's teach me to break my 'no PDF is worth more that $10' rule.

Anyway, I doubt any blog readers have never encountered LOTR:SBG - even as GW's redheaded stepchild it's bigger than 99% of other indie company releases - but I could do a review if anyone is interested. If only for the novelty of hearing me praising GW - I believe it's the best rules GW has ever produced.